Wall-E might be the most sympathetic, lovable robot ever created on film. While R2-D2 was hilarious and endearing, he had the benefit of C3PO to translate for him and a cast of human characters to carry the weight of the story. At the end of the day, R2-D2 was simply comic relief, but his descendant, whose voice was also created by Ben Burtt, is so full of humanity that you feel like your heart might just burst. Simply put, Wall-E is a masterpiece.
The first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E are almost completely without dialogue. Instead, the story is told visually, as we see Wall-E, the abandoned garbage bot, puttering around a staggeringly rendered post-apocalyptic Earth. He goes around doing his job, as he has for the past 700 years, compacting trash into cubes and stacking them into immense towers. On the side, he collects remnants of humanity to keep for his own amusement. Zippo lighters, Rubik’s Cubes, Christmas lights: these are what Wall-E surrounds himself with. Because he’s so alone (except for a little cockroach), these dirty, abandoned objects are his companions, his contact with humanity.
He watches Hello, Dolly! on an iPod that he somehow hooked up to a VCR, emulating the dancing and learning about love. (That’s not the only Apple reference in the movie: he makes the classic Mac bootup sound when he turns on, and his love interest EVE was designed by Jonathan Ive). When you see Wall-E try to imitate the dancing using a hub cap he collected just for that purpose, you know that this is more than a piece of machinery. Proving Pixar’s raison d’etre, this little silent robot has more humanity in him than most movie characters played by actual humans.
Immediately, we realize this isn’t your typical kiddie cartoon. No pop culture jokes? No instantly-recognizable celebrity voices? A decimated, humanless landscape full of towers of garbage and decrepit buildings? A lonely robot trying to learn about love and humanity through centuries of its trash? This looks more like a beautiful, haunting sci-fi movie than a children’s movie, because that’s exactly what it is.
Wall-E features loving nods to everything from Brave New World to 2001 to Star Wars without ever feeling derivative. Instead, it builds on them, making what has the potential to be an almost relentlessly bleak world into one full of complete joy and levity. It always has that undercurrent of melancholy just under the surface, as we never really forget that humanity has utterly destroyed the planet and turned itself into a race of pudgy, helpless babies, but heart of the story is Wall-E and his longing for love.
And isn’t that the sign of great science fiction? While on the surface it’s a movie about robots and spaceships set centuries in the future, deep down it’s about humanity and its place on Earth and in the universe. It uses its out-of-this-world settings and characters as a lens to reflect our own world back at us, showing us both the beauty and the ugliness of our existence through the eyes of a guileless, trash-compacting robot.
In a movie season that’s overpopulated with tired superhero movies, remakes and sequels, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a movie that stands on its own as a completely new and unique creation. It’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything like Wall-E, and you might not see anything like it again. Go. Go see it as soon as you can.